Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck: Electoral Autocracy
(Venezuelan Case) 30.11.2016–14.01.2017
Opening: Tuesday, 29 November 2016, 7 pm
Exhibition runs: 30.11.–14.01.2017
Opening hours: Tue–Fri, 11 am–6 pm, Sat 11 am–4 pm
Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck frequently engages in a research-based practice that confronts cultural, political, and socioeconomic subjects. His works directly comment on, question, and provide specific definition to our perceptions of power. In Electoral Autocracy, his third solo exhibition at the gallery, Balteo-Yazbeck combines previously existing and recent works to broadly examine the chaos of his home country, probing the problematical historic narratives that bring us to our present.
Currently, Venezuela is in the most precarious of national circumstances – it is moving ever closer to decidedly acute, widespread, and violent revolt. This social, economic, and political turmoil has recurring tendencies, influenced to a large degree by the real or perceived accomplishments of the previous or current political regimes.
In the photo-series Nostalgic Apparatus (1998), Balteo-Yazbeck confronts the achievements of past dictatorships – specifically that of the architectural contributions to Caracas in the 1950’s. Here, we see the silhouette of a newly modernized capital city, installed as a panorama on the lower section of the Humboldt Planetarium’s projection dome. The wonders of rapid progress acts as propaganda, and serves as certain homage to the exploits and successes of a previous administration. At times of unrest, this problematic history can have a considerable effect on political thought – in reaction to widespread disarray, the population became nostalgic for the military dictatorship of the 1950’s that greatly transformed Venezuela through vast infrastructure and building projects. This lead to a sentimental longing for a return to a ‘progressive’ past – whether this was authoritarian did not matter. The notion that the past supplants the present can and has been utilized as a powerful emotional and sociological tool. This, of course, has been proven in recent elections and referenda in Russia, Poland, Britain, and the USA, illustrating the ubiquity of instrumentalized nostalgia.
Not unlike other works in the exhibition, the video installation Homeland’s Agenda (2016) takes preexisting material and re-contextualizes its content to create new definitions and alternative understanding. Balteo-Yazbeck and his collaborator on this project, Ana Alenso, have followed Venezuelan social media for a number of years – this activity is born out of necessity as self-exiled Venezuelan artists to maintain certain types of connection. What we can understand in this work is the great influence of technology in its ability to create agency and to produce and circulate political speech, whether it takes the form of testimonies or manufactured propaganda. This work also provides direct visibility and access to an audience that may be unable to dive directly into the complex Venezuelan experience. In this way, the Internet allows for non-hierarchical circulation of information, a phenomenon also observed in other revolutionary processes occurring in places such as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Through a calculated and thoughtful installation of all of the included works, Electoral Autocracy provides a glimpse of the countless examples, circumstances and events that have brought Venezuela to its current political state. Through this, we may begin to see what possible futures lay ahead after indulging in the complicated and dangerous mix of nostalgia and authoritarian leadership.
Text: Kris Douglas